Michael Peterson (Tom Hardy) has some problems. Well, he’s got one big problem. He’s completely insane. There are people who are born fighters, and I guess Mickey’s one of those. There’s no apparent reason for it. His parents are normal and there aren’t any events (in the movie) that set him off. It just comes into his head, I guess, and he starts to beat on people. Once he’s in prison, he finds he likes it. He wants to be somebody and he’s got one thing that makes him special–so that’ll be it, then. He makes such a mess that he spends some time in a mental institution where he’s doped out of his mind. When he gets out of prison, he begins a fighting career managed(?) by Paul Daniels (Matt King), which is where he comes up with his fighting name “Charles Bronson,” but that doesn’t last long before he goes back to prison.
After seeing Drive (2011) and Valhalla Rising (2009), directed by Nicolas Winding Refn I was expecting the same kind of smooth beauty in the direction. That didn’t really happen in this one. There’s gritty as a genre and there’s gritty in the filming and this is the latter. It’s the former as well come to think of it, but that’s to be expected. This was far weaker in film quality. I’m sure that’s meant to convey a message, but it conflicts with his own direction style which is to convey more with film than dialogue.
Interestingly, this movie is far less plot-oriented than Drive and yet fails for all of that. I say interesting because this is based on a person with a history rather than a walking philosophy. The plot is rather simple–the guy’s in prison for the bulk of his life, after all–but Refn makes it choppy and nonsensical. Maybe non sequitor is a better description. A lot of art house crap is like that, but I expected more out of Refn.
The film is narrated by Charlie through a kind of one-man-show devise. He’s dressed in a tux in front of a well-attired crowd and tells his story in his own way. Other times he tells his story in institution-grade clothes while staring blankly at us. The guy is clearly cracked.
Then again, I think we got that from all the fighting so I’m not sure we needed the narration. What we really didn’t need is the sudden starting and stopping of laughter–we get it, he’s crazy. That bit really broke the movie for me. It was the first crack that made sure nothing else in the movie would be tense because I didn’t care about this guy anymore. I just wanted him to stop.
If Refn does one thing, it’s to turn me onto 80’s infused electronica. It’s very moving and builds tension quite well. But that isn’t the main musical choice in Bronson. On the contrary, most of the movie uses classical music. Much of it is beautiful, but with great beauty comes great responsibility. If you’re going to use The Flower Duet or Siegfried’s Funeral March, favorites of mine, you’ve got to have a scene to match. He didn’t.
Oddly enough, Refn’s other distinguishing characteristic is violence. The other two films I’ve seen were insanely violent and gory–with Drive relegating it all to the back half of the movie and Valhalla Rising relegating it to the whole of the movie–so I was surprised that this one was relatively tame. I say relatively, so don’t be concerned for my mental state. It’s mostly just blood and punching. So you don’t need to be afraid of that, if you are afraid of that sort of thing.
I’m now going to say something that people who saw this movie will almost certainly disagree with: I didn’t think Tom Hardy’s performance was that great. The character is absolutely insane, little more than a talking animal. I’d think that what was required here was some kind of insight into this guy. I didn’t get that. It’s not all Hardy’s fault. Refn doesn’t seem to know the right points to bring this out. Still, there isn’t something bubbling underneath like Ryan Gosling in Drive. I’m not saying it wasn’t well done in parts and maybe even most of it, but this is the whole enterprise. It needed to be perfect. It was far from it.
And another thing, there must be some mad people in institutions that have rhythm. Why do they all bound around like…well, like lunatics? I want to see a scene in which the lunatics dance in time and with some kind of skill. It’d say something about modern dance that needs to be said.
Ultimately, this movie didn’t meet expectations. There was a lot that was quite striking and good about it, but the guy was just an absolute psychotic who never made anything of himself. While I’m sure that’s appealing to some as a figure of a film, it isn’t to me. But a director of Refn’s apparent ability should make something that isn’t my taste interesting to watch.